Message from Fr. Peter Andronache
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized in one Spirit so as to form one body […] The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ […] If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12).
The image of the Church that St. Paul presents above is a challenging one. It tells us that each member of the body of Christ is important and each one is needed. On one hand, this means that no one in the Church should be neglected, that each one should be ministered to. On the other, it tells us that everyone has a responsibility to the Church, a gift to offer for the glory of God.
It can be tempting to think that we are not needed, that the parish will be fine with our minimal involvement. As years pass and life moves on, this delusion can even begin to seem like reality. Make no mistake, though—it is only an illusion. The mere fact that the church doors remain open, that services continue, and that the budget may even balance from time to time does not mean that things are fine. There is, indeed, a minimum that allows a parish to survive, a level of involvement that keeps things going. Being satisfied with that minimum misses the point of what the Church is and of who we are as Christians.
There are stories, from Fr. George Calciu, for example, of Liturgies celebrated in prison without books, without even the necessary materials. Fr. George speaks of celebrating the Liturgy in his cell with bread and water.
In the Communist prison, that was enough, but it was not a minimum. Even though, by the standards of a normal, regular service, it may seem impoverished, in prison, the offering of the Liturgy with bread and water was a maximal offering. It was the offering of one’s whole life to Christ our God. Ultimately, that is what it means to be a Christian.
The question of the minimum necessary does not, properly speaking, have its place in Christianity. We may ask such a question out of academic curiosity, but in the realm of the lived faith, the minimum necessary is the offering of our entire life to Christ our God. It is in the offering of our whole lives that we begin to see the fullness of the Church. It is through this offering that we provide the Church with the means of showing her true nature as the body of Christ, bringing the light of salvation to the world.
There is a minimum. With a priest and a congregant you can have a Liturgy. With a priest and a parish council, you can run a parish. That minimum creates a shadow of a parish, a pale image of what a parish can and should be. The Liturgy with a congregation of one, beautiful and holy as it is, is not the same as the Liturgy with the full congregation. The parish where the parish council struggles to keep the doors open is not the same as the parish in which all the parishioners are active in ministering to one another and to the community around them. Our faith is one of fullness, and we need to strive to offer our entire lives to Christ so that we may reach the fullness of the faith.
St. Paul, in the quote from 1 Corinthians that started this article, reminds us that each one of us is needed. Every year, our parish needs you to teach, sing, serve on the parish council, serve in the community, bring the light of Orthodoxy to others, help fundraise. Active participation in all the ministries of the church is needed for the fullness of an Orthodox parish. For an Orthodox parish, the minimum necessary is not sufficient; the parish strives for the fullness of the life in Christ. The question that each one of us needs to ask is: What is my role in this striving? What part am I in this body of Christ?
As we begin the new ecclesiastical year and as we proceed on the next steps of our facilities improvement project, we need to keep in our hearts and minds the words of St. Paul and realize that each one of us is needed as a fully committed Orthodox Christian, not only for the physical success of our facilities addition, but also to fulfill both the spiritual purpose of our parish community and our own baptismal pledge of uniting ourselves to Christ.
May our Lord grant us the wisdom and the strength to do what is needed: commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.
With love in Christ,